Provocation triple distilled
23 February 2017 09:09 (South Africa)
Opinionista Onkgopotse JJ Tabane

13 conversations about one thing: the hypocrisy of Cosatu

  • Onkgopotse JJ Tabane
    OnkgeposteBW
    Onkgopotse JJ Tabane

    Onkgopotse JJ Tabane is one of South Africa’s leading media and communications specialists, as well as a community activist and a business executive. He is currently the Chief Executive of Oresego Holdings an International Advisory Company. His most recent roles were Head of Communications for COPE [2008], Political Advisor to the COPE parliamentary Leader as well as a Corporate Affairs Executive at the JSE listed Altron. He is a member of the University of the Western Cape Council, where he is an appointee of the Minister of Higher Education after serving two terms on the council of the Northwest University. He is an Associate of the prestigious international Institute of Independent Business (IIB). He is a regular columnist for The Sunday Independent and Pretoria News. In 2011 he rejoined the ANC as an ordinary member. Tabane is a PHD Candidate in Media and Journalism Studies at WITS University.

Cosatu has given ANC a great deal of good advice – good advice in the sense that it should be following those directives itself. It smacks of hypocrisy, in other words. The feedback must be taken seriously, but Cosatu will not only have to do the same within its own ranks, but also join the ANC as an alliance partner to fix those problems it has helped to create. 

Cosatu has raised its hand and delivered some powerful indictments against the ANC. True? Yes, sometimes. Understandable? Yes, often. But applicable? No, almost never.

Let me say at the outset that my intention is not to break down Cosatu’s feedback unequivocally. Some of their comments are bang on the money. The problem lies in that their view is often oversimplified, overlooking both the complexity of the South African context and the inherent problems in the organisation’s own structure. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, one might say. Cosatu is full of high-minded assessments, but what it desires in the ANC should apply to its own policies as well. 

Let’s look at each of Cosatu’s suggestions.

Public representatives must not be allowed to be businesspeople. They must place interests in a trust that cannot be active while they are in office. Conflict of interests with family in business should also be avoided. 

The trouble is that the union leaders themselves are in cahoots with some of these (ahem) politicians, and share these same business interests. Furthermore, a  situation where people pretend not to have business interests while they hold the same through proxies, friends, mistresses and wives is much worse and, unfortunately, has become completely acceptable. Cosatu knows that the problem can't be solved by some decree – but rather by changing, fundamentally, the mindset where people are keen to benefit from patronage and connections rather than through competence. There is no shortcut to this end, unfortunately – and transparency is a far healthier solution when it comes to the business interests of public representatives. 

Outsourcing by the state creates a climate in which tender fraud flourishes. Government should not put work out to tender that can be done by public servants internally. 

This is a generic lament. Even in business, you cannot in-source everything. Outsourcing is a job creation imperative, where you can maximise skills that are idle in the economy to accelerate delivery of the state.  From an ethical perspective, however, skills transfer needs to be monitored closely and the rules of proper outsourcing must be determined. It’s one thing to avoid unnecessary costs; it is entirely another for the state to do things that are not its core business because outsourcing has been demonised by the unions. 

There must be a five-year rather than one-year cooling-off period for public servants who resign and go into business. Still, the ANC government should enforce “even the weak one-year period”. 

This is all good and well, but it must start with the unions. A five-year cooling-off period in any case makes no sense if one is to encourage entrepreneurship. The key issue is rather a direct javelin situation, where someone pre-constructs opportunities and then takes advantage of them for his or her own benefit. This must, quite simply, be outlawed. But for the rest? No. People should be encouraged to go into business, and government must support those who at least understand it in terms of consultancy. This will lead to continuity in implementation and capacity building. 

Implement the ANC election manifesto that says there should be no tampering with tenders. 

This directive is well-intentioned but, unfortunately, meaningless. Tenders are predetermined all the time, so it's the underlying mindset that must change, rather than a need for new rules. People tampering with tenders should be arrested, yes; sadly, however, there are so many authority figures who would be implicated that this is highly unlikely to take place. If fraud cannot be stamped out, however, it can at least be minimised by looking at the morals of alliance leaders who can be proven to give tenders to their own wives and friends. A total of 2,000 civil servants have, in previous investigations, been found to do business with themselves. Cosatu, however, never called for their prosecution. Why not? It seems a sensible place to start.

Review the ministerial handbook. This process has been going on for a long time, but is yet to bear results. 

What do these guys discuss in their alliance meetings, I wonder? This assessment is so pedestrian (sigh). Revision has been going on for years. Maybe there’s a reluctance to review ministerial guidelines, as well as those rules that apply to some Cosatu leaders in Parliament. Truthfully, though, the ministerial handbook should be made an issue in Cabinet or Parliament – but not just as an afterthought. 

The ANC’s discussion document is not as strong on corruption as Cosatu would like it to be. Introduce a new policy to save the image of the organisation whose leaders are accused of serious crimes and corruption. 

There’s no tactful way to put this. Cosatu was the first to countenance leaders remaining in the office while accused. Start with John Block. So really, why theorise when you have living examples of accused people still running for office in the ANC? This is hypocrisy, pure and simple. Why is Cosatu, for its own part, not campaigning to remove such people?

Analyse the role of the state in a capitalist society, and don’t try to “beat the workers into submission” with policy analysis

Read: Don't debate unreasonable policy proposals from the unions. But the elephant in the room is that the ANC is not a socialist organisation. Cosatu has lost that battle, but keeps bringing it through the back door in the form of policies that make no sense in a market-driven global economy. The opposition to labour brokers, lock stock and barrel, is one such bizarre stance. Must the ANC play dead in the face of unworkable policies? 

Slate politics and divisions are a breeding ground for mediocrity and incompetence, corruption and factionalism, which in turn kills the image of the ANC and leads to many doubting its values. 

Honestly, if people want to elect a group of people to lead who will get along, I really don't see what the problem is. This is the most hypocritical utterance made by leaders of the alliance: they lead these factions and slates at night, and during the day they condemn them. Polokwane was a clear example of complicity in this slate business – that's why good people were left out of the NEC simply for associating with the wrong slate. I doubt this will be different in Mangaung. It's a pipe dream that there won't be slates. So who is Cosatu fooling? 

The paper needs to be clearer on the role the alliance must play in influencing ANC decisions. It is not true that the only way to influence the ANC is by being on the national executive committee. 

This is true. Cosatu must influence the alliance from branch level in deployed teams in legislatures etc., and not just wait for meetings. This much we agree with – but hidden behind the sentiment is Cosatu’s refusal to take responsibility, because they will have to be restricted a lot more if more of them are on the NEC. Go figure…

Define what the ANC means by “oppositionist” stance, because Cosatu is accused by some ANC leaders of being “oppositionist” when it disagrees with the ANC, while it is not. 

Ah, here’s an interesting one. True, yes – but in Cosatu it’s just the same. Anyone differing from them is reactionary and anti-poor. But there shouldn’t be a double standard. There is a general intolerance of debate in the alliance that can’t be solved by explaining what “oppositionist” means. It simply means intolerance – but the issue runs deeper. It’s a shared weakness of all alliance partners against opposition parties and, now, amongst one another. There is a need to learn to embrace differing views, and this won’t be solved overnight.  

Analyse the SACP and the mass democratic movement as well, don’t just analyse the weaknesses of Cosatu

The wheels of the alliance are clearly coming off if this is a serious suggestion to (so-called) “fix” the ANC. Obviously there is a feeling that the SACP is the darling of the ANC. But then, Cosatu can provide such analysis as part of the alliance family, instead of passing the responsibility for analysis to somebody else. 

Analyse what has happened to other liberation movements who became aloof and arrogant and nip some of these corrosive tendencies in the bud. 

Sure, I agree completely. Part of the arrogance and complacency of the ruling party was fuelled by the blind support of Cosatu over the years. Let's start the analysis from there – this may bring to the fore the issue of the relevance of the alliance in its current form. 

The ANC has to recognise the class nature of society and recognise that corruption has its roots in the inherently corrupt capitalist system.  

Corruption cannot be analysed so narrowly, through such ideological sentiments. When deployed cadres squander funds, they cannot blame capitalism. It's their own greed and lack of grounding that they must deal with. We must stop explaining away corruption. Even if we became a socialist society tomorrow, people will still lie and cheat the taxpayer. The problem lies in the moral fibre of our society. 

This glib response to serious policy proposals from an alliance partner is a serious indictment on the alliance itself, and hopefully will signal to the policy conference that there is a huge need to review how the alliance runs its business in order to be taken seriously. 

There should be the expectation of a serious contribution to building the ANC, instead of cheap political point-scoring. This so-called advice to the ANC would be full of great suggestions – if it weren’t so heavily laced with hypocrisy. DM

Note: Tabane is the CEO of Oresego Holdings. He writes in his personal capacity. 

  • Onkgopotse JJ Tabane
    OnkgeposteBW
    Onkgopotse JJ Tabane

    Onkgopotse JJ Tabane is one of South Africa’s leading media and communications specialists, as well as a community activist and a business executive. He is currently the Chief Executive of Oresego Holdings an International Advisory Company. His most recent roles were Head of Communications for COPE [2008], Political Advisor to the COPE parliamentary Leader as well as a Corporate Affairs Executive at the JSE listed Altron. He is a member of the University of the Western Cape Council, where he is an appointee of the Minister of Higher Education after serving two terms on the council of the Northwest University. He is an Associate of the prestigious international Institute of Independent Business (IIB). He is a regular columnist for The Sunday Independent and Pretoria News. In 2011 he rejoined the ANC as an ordinary member. Tabane is a PHD Candidate in Media and Journalism Studies at WITS University.

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